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Jim Ford - Point of No Return

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Artist: Jim Ford

Album: Point of No Return

Label: Bear Family

Review date: Jun. 27, 2008

Jim Ford was Sly Stone’s best friend, Nick Lowe’s main musical influence, and a writer of hits for Bobby Womack, The Temptations and Aretha Franklin. The Kentucky-via-California songwriter was also a legendary partier who, according to lore, once landed at Heathrow sporting a Stetson and rose-tinted shades with a million dollars worth of cocaine stuffed in his belt. One thing he was not, however, was successful.

Dropped in 1969, Ford’s lone solo album Harlan County is an energetic and oft-brilliant fusion of Deep Southern country and California soul. The record turned the ear of Lowe and others on both sides of the pond but failed to spark commercial interest. Saddled with self-doubt, Ford sank into a haze of drug and drink that consumed him for the better part of thirty years, effectively wiping his name from the minds of the few who had been so enticed by his early recordings.

In 2006, L-P Anderson of Sweden’s Sonic Magazine tracked Ford to a trailer park in Mendocino County, and after a series of negotiations convinced the reclusive rocker to authorize much of his material for release. Last year’s The Sounds of Our Time, released via German imprint Bear Family, included the Harlan County album as well as a bundle of rare and unreleased cuts. Following the success of that collection comes Point of No Return, the first in a supposed series of releases highlighting material from the sprawling archives of reel-to-reel and cassette recordings that littered Ford’s home.

While Ford’s legend is almost too twisted to be true — he was also, among other things, the stepfather of Marlon Brando’s kids — his legacy deserves to be far more than that of another hard-partying rock ’n’ roll failure.

Opening track “I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind” is a weary solo ballad recorded during an ill-fated trip to the UK in 1971. The song is casual, even tossed off, yet Ford’s soulful vocals and brokenhearted lyrics rank it as a lost classic of renegade country. Similarly, “Mill Valley” and “Just Cause I Can” are pure honky-tonk gold, part of a country album that, according to the liner notes, Ford promised to complete if he was slid an under-the-table payment of twenty grand.

That album never appeared, nor did any proper follow-up to Harlan County. Ford cut tracks for a number of labels but the sessions always turned up incomplete.

While Ford was erratic and aloof in the studio, he was alarmingly consistent as a songwriter. Each track on this set serves proof that Ford had an uncanny knack for penning simple, memorable songs that sway across the spectrum of ’60s-’70s popular music. “Look Again” is euphoric, sugar-high pop with a dropped-out hippie twist. The title track is lascivious soul, dripping with sexual innuendo. Elsewhere, Ford knocks out horn-fueled funk (“If I Go Country”) soaring working class ballads (“Go Through Sunday”) and grooving character portraits (“Harry Hippie”).

Where The Sounds of Our Time introduced Ford’s most successful work to a new audience, Point of No Return may indeed be a more valuable document of his career. Many artists are capable of stocking their winners in order to put out one solid record. In its wealth of glory and despite — though almost because of — its unfinished textures, this collection proves Ford was an artist of great depth.

Sadly, Ford passed away on November 18, 2007, four months before a scheduled reunion concert in London. Here’s hoping Bear Family will continue their campaign to bring to light the accomplishments of this underappreciated, genre-hopping master of American music.

By Ethan Covey

Other Reviews of Jim Ford

Harlan County / The Unissued Capitol Album / Big Mouth USA: The Unissued Paramount Album

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View all articles by Ethan Covey

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